- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Bears that wander into the Washington and Baltimore suburbs should be left alone, a Western Maryland legislator said yesterday.
Delegate George C. Edwards, Garrett County Republican, made the comment after the House of Delegates moved toward replacing his proposal for a limited bear hunt in his part of the state with a permit program that would allow applicants to kill bears that threatened life or property.
"When [the Department of Natural Resources] finds one in Montgomery County they should just let him stay," Mr. Edwards said.
"DNR heard those people say 'we'll take the bears' [and] most of the resistance [to a hunt] comes from people in metropolitan areas who, when they see a bear, want it taken somewhere else," said Mr. Edwards.
He said the natural resources department's own map showed there is habitat in every county in the state that can sustain the black bears that he and other Western Marylanders, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., say are frightening people and destroying crops and property in Garrett and Allegany counties.
And a state official said yesterday the department will largely let nature be when bears wander into the suburbs, as several did last summer near the District.
"I gave Delegate Edwards my word that, when we have black bears that, through the natural process, wander into wooded yards, we will ask [residents] to be tolerant," said Paul Perditto, director of Wildlife and Heritage Services, of aggressive behavior. However, Mr. Perditto said in cases where bears are spotted in areas with lots of human activity like one sighted lumbering past the emergency room entrance at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville on June 14 rangers would guide or relocate the animal to nearby woods.
Mr. Edwards said many who oppose hunting to control black bear population in Western Maryland "don't know what they are talking about." He also disputed Natural Resources Department estimates that there are only about 300 bears in the entire state.
He noted that a state task force in 1995 said there were between 400 to 500 just in Garrett County.
"There aren't too many people who live where I live who believe those numbers," Mr. Edwards said.
Consideration of the bill continues today when more limiting amendments are expected to be offered on the House floor.
Mr. Perditto said the department had opposed the hunt proposal because they believe it's unnecessary.
Maryland law allows a person to kill a bear in self-defense if it threatens them directly.
Mr. Perditto said the department has a "50-page response plan" to address bear problems, adding that the agency which has paid $8,500 on $12,000 in claims last year plans to do a better job of compensating farmers for losses.
But Mr. Edwards said many people in Western Maryland have stopped calling the department for help because they don't seem to have the staff to respond.
Still he said he'd like to see the legislature approve some measure as a sign that it recognizes the problem.

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